Over the past decade, Tom Waits has developed a tripartite personality: There's the surrealist cabaret singer of The Black Rider, the sorrowful lounge act that has taken a "Downtown Train" to hell and back, and the high-octane caveman who emerged from Swordfishtrombones. If 2002's simultaneous release of Alice and Blood Money exorcised the first two personas, Waits's return embraces the third. Mostly, Real Gone is a rude jumble of roughhouse blues, Latin beats and Jamaican rock-steady, all cobbled together with a battery of ratty homemade percussion. As the first record in Waits's career without any piano, it offers some tracks (including the opener, "Top of the Hill," and "Don't Go into That Barn") that rest entirely on gnarly guitar riffage, which can be a headache. But the jagged rants (the best being "Metropolitan Glide") make the soft spots ("Green Grass," "Sins of the Father") all the more gratifying. And with "Day After Tomorrow" (first heard on MoveOn.org's Future Soundtrack for America), Waits offers an antiwar ballad that stands as the record's best tune.
For the first time, the piano is Real Gone from a
Tom Waits record. It must have been drinking.